by Scout, Ph.D. Director, Network for LGBT Health Equity At The Fenway Institute
I was first dragged up to Creating Change when I was 23 years old. It was 1990, the first year Creating Change moved out of DC. I remember the energy there, the excitement, even meeting one person who talked about the experience of being at Stonewall in 1969. I was an idealistic young LGBT activist then, part of ACT UP and Queer Nation, and about to start the path that would lead me to being one of the National Co-Chairs of the 1993 March on Washington (yes, still the biggest LGBT one ever). I had endless energy and an easy willingness to sleep six to a hotel room.
For me, Creating Change was an infusion of energy and ideas. I was invigorated hearing about the local work being done all across the country. The conference quickly became a fixture for me and many of our friends. We would carpool or take the train for days to get to it, somehow making it all work with little or no cash. It was at creating change in 1992 I was first told I was transgender (yes “told” but that’s another story for anther day), a mere 2 years after the word is commonly thought to have been created. In 1993 I was roped into presenting on a transgender panel, in 1994 I had the good fortune of being awarded the Creating Change outstanding leadership award, along with my other ’93 March co-chairs. Yes, Creating Change was a fixture in my early organizing life, an oasis of time to crosspollinate ideas among local organizers, or convene the far flung national organizers for rare face to face discussions.
Somewhere after that I started pursuing my professional career more, I got a PhD, I moved from working on AIDS to LGBT health, and somehow Creating Change dropped off the radar. I don’t know when I stopped going, I just know it felt like a long gap. I’d changed, my role had changed, frankly I no longer went to conferences to listen much anymore, I was more likely to have them offer to pay my way so I could be a featured speaker. I’d fly in for my talk, then fly out again, as I tried to juggle too many professional demands.
Then, a few years ago, in an effort to bring awareness of the LGBT smoking disparity to LGBT leadership I turned back to Creating Change. I gathered a few funders to underwrite a reception and I arranged to fly in and out as per usual. And I wondered, how would it feel to return?
To my surprise — despite the many changes in my life, Creating Change encompassed enough diversity to still be a valuable professional and personal conference. I wished I had stayed for longer. And the next year I did. And the next. The Network for LGBT Health Equity is well served by being at the conference, it’s one of the very best places to educate our community leadership about tobacco and wellness disparities, or to engage people in advocacy, or to connect with local leaders who can urge more local work on these issues.
That first year back several people came up to welcome me back, and asked me where I’d been all those years. Yes, I’d been working diligently for LGBT health issues, but I hadn’t been at the premier event that pulls our community leadership together and I realized that left many smart connections unmade.
Today they gather from all over
Today LGBT leaders from all over the country are converging on Baltimore for the 24th Annual Creating Change conference. I’ll be leaving myself soon. Tomorrow I’ll be having conversations with funders, press, executive directors, state equality organizers, youth leaders, and so many others. Gustavo and Daniella are already there, setting up our table for our annual health advocacy action we conduct at Creating Change.
This year I’m particularly excited that we’re bringing in Sophia Isabel Marrero Cruz, the spokesperson for the Transgender and Transexuals Moving Together in Puerto Rico. The many Puerto Rico LGBT health organizers like her are creating amazing change in the face of intense discrimination and violence. I look forward to introducing her around, because she and the other Puerto Rico organizers really need the resources that can emerge from those connections.
But maybe you won’t be there? Maybe you haven’t understood how this conference is relevant to your work? Well, I hope maybe my story will help you reconsider. I hope next year you might think about joining us. Because I can assure you, Creating Change isn’t just the conference title, it’s the reality.